I'm honestly not sure what to call Pilot Candidate (AKA The Candidate for Goddess). Is it the most contrived, most badly written and translated, most confusing, and overall worst example of Japanese animation ever created? Is it a "HUD housed and living off of goverment cheese" rip-off of Neon Genesis Evangelion? Is it the anime equivalent to Manos, the Hands of Fate, in that it's so abyssmal it comes off as side-splittingly funny (especially when MSTing it)? Is it the most utterly dark and wry satire to ever be made in regards to the upstart genre of angsty teenagers in sexually ambiguous outfits with giant robots and psychological issues? It might be all four, or maybe just one of them. I'd like to say I'll figure it out by the end of this write-up but most likely I won't, not in many years. Be warned that there's spoilers, if you could call anything that stays utterly mind-boggling episodes after the fact getting spoiled.

Some facts should go first. This show was produced by Xebec and based on a manga by Yukiru Sugisaki. Stylistically it's half-handrawn animation and half-CG. The show was directed by Mitsuru Hongo, who previously worked on Outlaw Star. It had a run of 12 episodes so far, premiering on Japanese TV on January 18, 2001, and on North American TV on February 23, 2002 on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block. That in and of itself was a bruise on the image of the block, due to the fact that it was originally planned to be part of the Toonami block, and even edited down to TV-Y7 standards (hell to heck, damnit to darn it, cigarettes to...toothpicks!?). Anyways, it was pushed back due to outside factors (also slightly nonsensical). And in a pinch, put into the Adult Swim block to fill time until better shows are aquired and readied to replace it.

There's a strong indication, (although unconfirmed) that Cartoon Network didn't even want the series, but it was kind of foisted upon them by Bandai as part of a multi-series deal (which included every Gundam series scheduled to be brought over to the US for the next few years). And, well, they simply couldn't turn it down, due to Gundam being the major cash-cow as far as Bandai-distributed anime goes.

The plot, at least according to a preview from the Anime News Network, is as follows:

In the year 4084, Humans have been overwhelmed by a mysterious foe known as the "Victim". The sole surviving planet of humanity, Zion, is defended at all costs by a team of 5 gigantic mecha known as "the Goddesses". A special pilot, endowed with the mysterious "EX" power, pilots each of the 5 Goddesses. Of the five pilots, all are male except for one remarkable exception. Each Goddess is also given a female repairer who remotely monitors and controls the Goddess. systems, as well as repairs the Goddess when it is damaged. In addition, the mecha themselves seem to possess their own unique personality and soul. However, the war against the Victim is a brutal one and pilots don't seem to last very long. For that reason, the GOA (Goddess Operators Academy) has been set up in the orbit of Zion to train and keep replacements ready in case a pilot can't be used anymore.

All this serves to set up the arrival of some of the most cliched and irritating characters to ever grace a cartoon. First is Zero Enna, our main character and one of the pilot candidates. And what a horrid choice too, as he spends the entire span of the series either repeating himself hyperactively, lost in confidence-building psychobabble, or saying things to other characters that are so utterly inane, they're not sure whether to punch him in the jaw or have him checked in for psychiatric evaluation. He also has a zero-gravity sickness.

Next is Clay, another candidate. Very much a nerd-type character, he spends most of the time adjusting his glasses with his middle finger and making observations that things are "interesting", no matter what it may be. It kinda gets him into trouble too, as he goes after risky and life-threatening methodology during training for the sake of things being interesting. Crazy kid. The other main candidate is Hiead. Angsty and seemingly angry all the time, he comes off as sort of an odd cross between Rei Ayanami and Ike Turner, especially in the way he abuses his repairer partner and alternates between moods of wanting to be left alone and wanting to wipe everybody else out. That alone makes him a favorite character due to the remote possibility he could blow up GOA and everybody else in it.

Beyond those three, there's two other main characters. One is Kizna, Zero's repairer partner. She has these pants, and one pant leg is completely cut off. What, is she symbolizing street warfare with her clothes style? It just seems too ridiculous for any gang I know of. She also tends to talk in carny speak, saying things like "I didn't mean to hit you, but I'd hit you again!". Oh yes and one other thing...she has cat ears. Now I don't mean she's a catgirl, for the sole reason that it's shown in a cryptic flashback that the cat ears weren't natural. Who in the...why would somebody replace natural human ears with cat ears on a girl? I don't understand it, and even if they explain it I never will. There's also the head instructor Azuma. He's quite the smoker (or toothpick chewer, depending on what version you're watching). He tends to smack Zero around quite a bit, which serves for a small bit of intentional comedy.

A note about the dub: Apparently the english dub script was translated by the japanese staff and not an english language-native crew, which explains a lot of the engrish and seemingly non-sequitur moments that are scattered throughout the show. It make things even more begging for insults, with lines such as Kizna's "Zero? Do you want to explode?" and Azuma referring to Zero as "princess sleepyman". To add to the insult, the lip sync of the english dub was an utter joke, I'm talking 70's kung-fu movie level. I don't really split hairs about subtitled and dubbed anime like other folks, espcially since the more I watched the show the more obvious it was that no amount of subtitles could fix it.

As far as the storyline goes it's pretty obvious if you've seen a couple of thse types of anime. Zero somehow stumbles upon the goddesses and accidentally falls into the gooey stuff/cockpit of one. Shockingly enough (!) he gets along great with the goddess, even before the training. And everybody hates him for it (or for having the accident in the first place) except the people in charge. In any case, we're only introduced to them in the shadows. Through the series he goes through the training he still doesn't need, and annoys everbody on a regular basis. That includes his repair partner who is very sensitive about her ears from parts unknown. He also has flashbacks and dreams about his childhood, and he keeps asking himself why he wants to be a pilot. And even after he claims to know, the audience is still in the dark on it. Meanwhile we get a few more shady characters and half-developed storylines. Plus we get many shots of an endless corridor that's used for dramatic sting effect but just comes off as damn silly. By the end it's utterly confusing. So they decide to annul it all with a song. And it's even started in a non-sequitur. See, Hiead's repair partner sabotaged Zero's test goddess, and after the problem was averted and everything was cleared up she was overly apologetic to Kizna. But Kizna only wanted to sing a song with her.

There's so many other whacked-out aspects to the show, from an impromptu fencing and rythmic gymnastics competition between Zero and one of the other candidates, to one of Zero's dreams where everybody is dressed in 19th century high society garb, to the usage of the word "dude" as an insult (as in "Someone stop this runaway dude!"). But I think it best to leave it alone. I'm sure somebody else will come along to give this show a reverent treatment in a write-up, and I'll be laughing all the way home about it too. Oh and by the way, I still don't know what the point of the show was.

Episodes:

  1. Connection
  2. In Tune
  3. EX
  4. Self Awareness
  5. Partner
  6. Combination
  7. Pro-Ing
  8. Land Battle
  9. Death (titled Doom for Cartoon Network)
  10. Dreams
  11. Jealousy
  12. Drifting

There's node what you know, and node what you don't know...well I call this node what you hate.

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